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USPS Testing Chatbot For Customer Inquiries

From the OIG: In the very near future, finding that missing package might be as easy as going to USPS.com and talking with a robot.

Well, maybe not a robot exactly, but a form of artificial intelligence (AI) known as a chatbot, a system that simulates conversations to field questions and complaints.

For five weeks during this past holiday season, the Postal Service deployed a chatbot on USPS.com to help customers track packages and give them options for next steps once a package’s location was determined. A customer keyed in a tracking number, triggering a chatbot that provided location information and follow-up suggestions, such as reporting a missing or damaged parcel, or signing up for Informed Delivery for a preview of the day’s mail.

There are plenty of advantages, including letting customers solve problems outside of normal working hours and avoiding long hold times or a voicemail system. In addition, the experiment provided the Postal Service with valuable knowledge it can apply to broader AI plans.

USPS officials gave a presentation on its holiday chatbot effort at a recent event hosted by the Office of Inspector General called “Artificial Intelligence and Possibilities for Improvements to the Postal Customer Experience.” The event included a panel of experts who discussed a range of issues on AI, from how to define AI and machine learning to framing actual ways USPS could use AI for customer service.

Suggestions included adding an improved, simplified search bar at the front page of USPS.com, and leveraging Postal Service buying power to explore a more dynamic procurement of cloud services to help manage bandwidth.

A panelist from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) noted that past collaboration between NIST and the Postal Service to develop and test optical character recognition was enormously successful. An interagency collaboration around AI could help the Postal Service gather support and pioneer the effort in the government sector.

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